Former Hawkeye and NFL receiver Tim Dwight was in Waukee on Friday to team with Tavian Banks on a youth camp.
Local football legend Tim Dwight rolled up to his old school district’s administrative offices Friday, lugging four solar panels on a trailer.
“Anyone need to charge your phone?” he posited to a group of elementary, middle and high school students on strike.
The NFL star-turned-solar panel entrepreneur dropped by to encourage student activists.
For the last five Fridays, a few students have skipped school to hold signs outside the
Iowa City Community Schools district administration building. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, they say they will not stop striking on Fridays until solar panels are at every school and environmental sustainability lessons are built into curriculum.
Their message resonates with Dwight, a former Little Hawk. Talking into a microphone-speaker system powered by his panels, Dwight applauded their efforts.
He also offered advice grounded in his own experience.
“Young kids, run for office,” he said. “That’s how you make change.”
“Young kids, run for office”
Dwight said he did not expect lobbying to be such an integral part of developing a solar panel business in Iowa, particularly now as the state legislature eyes a bill that would allow Iowa’s public utilities to charge additional fees to new solar customers.
Dwight, president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, describes solar energy as a clear answer to the state’s energy needs.
“This is the cheapest technology to create power, and look at the sun,” Dwight said. “It shows up every single day. We’ve got a lot wind in Iowa, but it doesn’t show up every day.”
With student strikers Friday, Dwight said solar panel technology needs to do what computers did in the 1980s: Scale down.
“When he was a young kid,” Dwight said referencing a gray haired man in the crowd, “computers were the size of a school. Now they fit in your pocket.”
“If we’re just here once, then we won’t make an impact”
Around a dozen students showed up to strike, including one Hills Elementary student. They were accompanied by another dozen parents and community members. Heidi Pierce, a professor at Kirkwood Community College, encouraged her class to attend to get a sense of community activism in action.
Dwight’s presence was a boost to the small handful of students who regularly walk out.
“It’s pretty insane. He’s a big football player; he had that awesome Super Bowl return,” Southeast student Alex Howe said, referencing Dwight’s 94-yard kickoff return touchdown at the 1999 Super Bowl. “And he’s big on climate. It’s just insane.”
Holding a sign reading “System change, not climate change,” City High student Shoshie Hemley said she was not familiar with Dwight. Hemley said Friday was her first time demonstrating with the group.
She’s hopeful that the disruption of student strikes will get their message across.
“We are the ones who are going to be living on this planet for the next decades, but we weren’t the ones who destroyed it; we weren’t the ones who filled it with plastic and pollution and made the laws so its easy for huge companies to pump CO2 into the air,” she said.
The protests are organized by Southeast Junior High student Massimo Paciotto-Biggers.
Environmental activism is something he shares with his father, Jeff Briggers, who drives the middle schooler to the strike. Briggers recently wrote a column calling for top Iowa City officials to resign or take greater steps to prevent climate change.
Paciotto-Biggers said he was inspired by the Youth Strike for Climate in May, but wanted to extend the activism.
“If we’re just here once, then we won’t make an impact,” he said.
“At what cost?”
The district will foray into solar panels next fall. Construction plans for Liberty High include a small bus dispatch office, powered by roof-mounted solar panels.
Putting solar panels on building is well within the district’s rights, but Superintendent Steve Murley said its less clear whether the school district can legally enter into a solar power purchase agreement. He said school officials may have more clarity on this in the coming weeks.
The district also has to consider what to give up in exchange for certain shifts toward solar panels.
“Everything is at what cost?” Murley says. “There is a fixed pool of resources available to us.”
Over the past five years, the school district has followed the Facilities Master Plan, renovating campuses across the district and opening a new elementary and high school.
“A lot of capital money was involved in that,” Murley said. “Could that have been used to build an enormous wind farm? It sure could have, but at what cost?”
Murley said community input, like that from the students protesting near his office, tells the school board how to manage money according to what the schools stakeholders need and want.
Murley said he would obviously prefer students not miss class, particularly close to finals, but added that social protests are a learning opportunity for the kids involved.
“On the other hand, I understand the point,” Murley said. “Protesting on Saturday — there’s nobody working here on Saturday.”
Joseph Cress, photographer for the Press-Citizen, contributed to this article.
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